I awoke lying on my back in a cell. My forehead pounded, my eyes burned, and my throat felt raw. I lifted a hand to rub my eyes, but the motion was cut short by an immobile resistance. I blinked at my wrists and saw metal cuffs attached by a heavy chain to a rung on the floor a few feet from me. My chest was bare, and simple tan trousers covered me from the waist down.
The cell stretched perhaps ten feet in each direction. Craggy black and gray stones checkered all four walls. Meager sunlight trickled through a slit near the ceiling opposite a stone door.
I pushed myself up to sitting, head swimming. When I scooted closer to the metal rung connected to my cuffs, I was able to lift my hands to my face. After rubbing my eyes, I let my hands drift down toward my neck. I knew what I would find there, but the smooth cold of the gold collar still sent shivers of disgust through me.
Memories washed over me like waves of icy water, each more chilling and painful than the last. Astoria’s brilliant smile. The gathering of Rakim soldiers at each exit. The finality in my father’s gaze as he commanded me to leave. My frantic search for Finny, calling her name over and over until my voice became raw. The screams of anguish as my father’s body burned. The acrid stench of his burnt flesh mingling with the sharp odor of concentrated alcohol dousing my own clothing.
And the final words that sealed my fate.
"I Claim him."